The Captive Lab Rat: Human Medical Experimentation in the Carceral State
61 Boston College L. Rev. (Forthcoming 2020)
63 Pages Posted: 28 Mar 2019
Date Written: March 5, 2019
Human medical experimentation using captive, vulnerable subjects is not a relic of our American past. It is part of our present. The extensive history of medical experimentation on the disabled, the poor, the mentally ill, and the incarcerated has been little explored. Its continuance has been even less discussed, especially in the legal literature. The standard narrative of human medical experimentation ends abruptly in the 1970’s, with the uncovering of the Tuskegee syphilis study. My research shows, however, that this narrative is incorrect and incomplete. The practice of experimenting on the captive and vulnerable persists, not just then but now.
Our current approach to human medical experimentation disregards informed consent and privacy, allowing the pharmaceutical and medical industries to play an outsized role in shaping clinical research. The confusing amalgam of laws, rules and codes loosely governing such research almost entirely fail to regulate or prevent patient mistreatment and abuse. Acquiring a true understanding of our system of mass incarceration requires us to unearth the hidden contours of our current experiments on the poor, the disabled, and the confined, and calls for a wholesale revision of the flawed legal and medical regime overseeing human medical experimentation.
Keywords: medical experimentation, carceral state, health law, prisoners, disability
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